Houston County Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing June 20 to consider a new Conditional Use Permit for an existing Bonanza Grain mineral extraction site. A permit allowing for expansion was required after Bonanza had exceeded the parameters of the original permit. In addition, recent claims of damage from blasting had been reported by residents. The commission chose to table discussion a month ago (May 23) to provide time to tour the site and tour some of the homes.
On Thursday they heard from Mike Spors of Vibra-Tech on the effects of ground vibrations during a blast on behalf of Bennett Explosives and Bonanza.
According to Spors a total of eight blasts were conducted at the Bonanza site since 2010. Portable seismographs were set up by Bennett explosives for each blast. The seismographs were set up at the closest residence to the blast to the west. The peak reading they recorded at any time during this several year period was .53 inch per second, which was within the acceptable range of U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) recommended limits, Spors said.
However the complaints of damage were not coming from a residence near the seismograph. Nancy Schroeder and her son Brent Schroeder’s homes are located on the side of the mine where no seismographic data had been collected.
Spors admitted that greater vibration energy will go in the direction away from the open face of the quarry, which is the direction of the two Schroeder residences. Spors commented that in his professional experience the increase level of vibrations toward the homes was not great enough to overcome the increased distance.
Gary Kruckow of Bonanza Grain said that based on recent complaints the company would agree to add two additional seismographs to record blast readings in all directions.
Nancy Schroeder spoke at the public hearing and wanted to see the blasting stopped altogether. According to Schroeder, the blasting has caused damaged to plaster and sheet rock in the homes.
The commission was not convinced the damage to Schroeder’s home was caused by blasting, rather than normal damage caused by time.
“I could understand if this was an old house,” Schroeder said, “But my son’s new house should not have that damage.”
Commissioner Dan Griffin acknowledged the presence of cracking in the homes but did not know for certain the cause of the damage. Griffin suggested that a temporary, six-month permit be granted to Bonanza, at which time a single blast could be conducted to determine if the damage was indeed caused by Bonanza.
During the hearing Yvonne Krogstad said that Bonanza had already violated its permit and she did not believe it was in the county’s best interest to give them a new one.
Bruce Kuehmichel also addressed the commission, asking them to read the zoning ordinance as it pertains to permit violation. In the zoning ordinance it states that failure to comply with the permit will cause immediate termination of the permit. Kuehmichel asked if the commission intended to follow their own ordinance.
Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said that it has been the policy of the county attorney to work out issues with the company rather than to go into court over every violation.
Kuehmichel said he believed the commission was knowingly violating the ordinance by not terminating the Bonanza’s permit.
In response, Griffin said the permit for blasting had expired and Bonanza had not been allowed to blast since these issues had been brought to the commission’s attention.
Houston County Commissioner Dana Kjome, and new member to the plan commission, said he recently read the zoning ordinance and was confused why the commission had ordinances if they were not going to be followed as Kuehmichel had suggested.
Scanlan argued that if the ordinance was followed to the letter the first feedlot that has a violation would be shutdown. “I am the first to admit we need to go through this ordinance again,” Scanlan said, “But every time we do a land’s rights person tell us not to do so because they want less regulation rather than more.”
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Griffin made a motion to extend Bonanza’s permit for another six months and allow one blast, – similar as possible to the blast on April 4 – and set seismographs at two additional properties to allow for comparison.
In addition, Bonanza and Bennett must notify all residents within a half mile of the date and the time of the blast.
In the event the blast is not in conformity Bonanza will have six months to remove production from quarry located off County Hwy. 12.
Also, after conducting the blast another public hearing will be triggered to allow the commission time to review the findings. At the end of six months Bonanza will need to file for a new permit application.
The motion passed with Commissioner Kjome voting against.
This recommendation will go to the County Board July 2.